Bell Witch and Aerial Ruin – Stygian Bough Volume I (Album Review)

Seattle Doom duo Bell Witch has officially joined forces with one-man outfit Aerial Ruin for Stygian Bough Volume I, a dense, harrowing album set for release through Profound Lore on Friday, June 26th.

Erik Moggridge, the one man mentioned for Aerial Ruin, has appeared on every Bell Witch record to date, namely in the form of vocals. However, his additional work on guitar is a first for Dylan Desmond on bass/vocals and Jesse Shreibman on drums/vocals, making the Bell Witch and Aerial Ruin unity a true collaboration rather than a respected contribution.

Before digging into this album, let’s look back at history for a moment. The birth of Doom Metal has some winding, dusty origins, but the groundbreaking work of bands like Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus, and Candlemass managed to splinter as many sub-genres as much as it did cement the basic Doom sound. Bell Witch has taken the morose melodic work of bands like Skepticism and contemporaries Evoken and further reduced the landscape to a barren emotional plane through haunting melodies, stripped down to the most basic aural format. That all in mind, short of a brief, anguished wail or a deep guttural snarl, the sounds of Stygian Bough Volume I are the moans of the bleakest, most raw human emotion.

On most Metal records, the glum funeral procession of “Prelude,” a track nestled just past the halfway point, would represent the darkest nadir of that record. Here, the album almost qualifies as the peak of happiness, the brightest ember of a dying orange star. Pressed between the electric avenues of “Heaven Torn Low II (the toll)” and closer “The Unbodied Air,” the track “Prelude” also represents the shortest entry; perhaps the three minds mucking about on Stygian Bough Volume I wanted to keep the happiness as brief and fleeting as possible. While the second run of “Heaven Torn Low” does managed to fade out as a proper introduction, the arrival of “The Unbodied Air” is as violently dismissive as it is a return to the form of the earlier tracks and moods, and the track ultimately closes as abruptly as it arrives.

At its other end, the album begins with “The Bastard Wind,” which starts its twenty-minute run a laconic chorus over nearly imperceptible instrumentation, before the inverse arrives. Additionally, nearly every one of the songs on the album could serve as its own EP, and “The Bastard Wind” is no different. Even accounting for the parading cacophony that covers the majority of its middle section, it veers from the course often enough to constitute a diverse set of ideas. Furthermore, the way its closing movement combines the two halves of cold vocal acoustics and dense electric progressions is chillingly effective.

This is while “Heaven Torn Low I (the prelude)” returns the icy closing of “The Bastard Wind” to the sparse acoustic procession the album started with. It is this return that basically doubles down on the grim, harrowing vibe that permeates the entire album. Calm acoustic happiness for a spell, only to be utterly decimated by maudlin electric booms that move at half the pace yet twice the destruction.

Overall, Stygian Bough Volume I will envelop each new listener, Bell Witch fan or otherwise, and drag them down into the cool, wormy earth where warmth trickles to a halt as desolate sounds will fill the void. That is why Cryptic Rock is pleased to give this epic masterpiece 4.5 out of 5 stars. 

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